therizinosaur: (Default)
Nellasaur ([personal profile] therizinosaur) wrote2013-10-17 11:41 am

[FANFICTION] Mercenary Medicine, ch 11/? [TF: Prime]

Title: Mercenary Medicine
Fandom: Transformers: Prime
Rating: PG-13
Summary: Knock Out is a freelance medic-- he works alone and he likes it that way. But when he finds a corpse that isn't as dead as it ought to be at the bottom of a pile of bodies, it puts his entire careful operation at risk.
Chapter: 01 || 02 || 03 || 04 || 05 || 06 || 07 || 08 || 09 || 10 || 11 || 12 || 13 || 14 || 15
Notes: Set way before what we see in the show and nowhere near Earth. Contains copious amounts of worldbuilding and headcanon. Thank you to my VIP screeners beta-readers, and special thanks to Dirge for letting me bounce ideas off her and helping keep my Breakdown in line. Mercenary Medicine wouldn’t be the story it is today without you, Dirge.

Sorry for the long, long hiatus on this fic, folks. Real life got very much in my way, I'm afraid, but I never intended to give up on MM for good. There may be further delays in getting the rest of the chapters out, but I know what the endgame on this fic is going to be and I fully intend to deliver it to you. Thanks for your patience and for sticking with me for so long!


**

Space yawned open over him, a tapestry of stars and galaxies spread around the small, finite form of Vitalis. The cathedral of the cosmos was vast and endless, a staggering beauty that was easy for even the most uncultured cyb to appreciate—but today he refused. Today the spangled vault was enough to make even a large Cybertronian feel small, to make the universe of politics and unease inside the ship beneath his feet seem wholly trivial.

Knock Out kept his head down and his optics on his work. He was feeling small enough lately, without being dwarfed by the void.

At least the work wasn’t difficult. He’d already tackled the bulk of the repairs during prior EVAs, taking care of the external damages to Vitalis piecemeal. It was the safest way to avoid over-exposure to the void, the easiest way to cut down the statistical risk of encountering debris (and there was always a risk of that, even on the outer edge of the star-system as they currently were). Knock Out didn’t take chances on EVAs. Replacing an external sensor array on one spacewalk, remounting a damaged camera on the next, replacing damaged circuitry and warped paneling a few spans at the time—it wasn’t the most efficient way to work, but for one cyb at it alone, without an extra pair of hands to help with the labor, it was the best.

Besides, the less time he spent outside his ship’s hull on any given spacewalk, the better he felt. He’d gladly trade efficiency for security when it came to threats like voidstroke or dismemberment by debris.

This was his final EVA of many necessary to deal with the damage Blackout had done to his ship. He was down to the last of the surface work, replacing warped panels and popping small dents. “Cosmetics,” he’d heard Blackout mutter disdainfully, passing by as Knock Out was stacking replacement paneling in the airlock. It had actually surprised him, to find that Blackout thought him vain and petty enough to put himself through the stress of unnecessary EVAs just to doctor the appearance of his ship in the middle of space. He’d actually given the massive flier credit enough to assume he knew how vital it was, to fuel economy and structural integrity both, to keep the ship’s hull in good condition.

Either the big flier was more stubborn or cruel—or both—than Knock Out had figured, or he was significantly less clever. After all, you didn’t have to be an aero-engineer to know that you risked a ship with a banged-up hull in atmospheric maneuvers.

And for all that Knock Out was getting tired of Blackout’s stubborn cruelty, he’d definitely prefer it to straight stupidity.

Magnetic exoboots attached to his feet holding him securely to the hull of the ship, Knock Out crouched over an egregiously dented panel, pulling the rivets holding it secure and taking care to collect each as it came loose. He attached a handle to the panel once it was free and used that to transfer it over to the sledge clinging to Vitalis’ hull. Securing the damaged panel before it could spin loose into the void, he removed the new one using the same magnetic handle and just as much care. Holding it in place with temporary micro-magnaclamps, he knelt again to drive the rivets. Straightforward, mindless work—as mindless as a cyb could afford to be out here, anyway—and it took him only a few minutes to see the replacement finished.

He made sure there was no loose debris and packed away the rivet gun and all the magnaclamps, then anchored himself to the sledge with a short tether cable and activated the full spread of HUD on the protective faceplate sealed to his helm. A digital overlay blossomed across his view of the ship’s hull, a real-time schematic of the damages done—a schematic painstakingly assembled from Vitalis’ damage reports and the readings he’d taken on his first trip out. The overlay tracked his progress during this EVA, completed points showing up positive blue and everything else painted in orange. Behind him, a succession of blue spots along the path he’d plotted over the hull; in front, nothing but his path back inside, a faint digital track of least resistance.

There. The repairs were finished. If he could have, he would have cycled a sigh of relief—but he couldn’t, and anyway, though the repairs were finished, his work wasn’t yet done. He released the sledge from the surface of the ship and carefully maneuvered it around in front of him, pointing it towards the airlock. Taking a solid grip on the handles, he leaned forward and started walking. He didn’t have far to go—he’d made a point of marching himself out to the farthest point from the airlock that had still needed maintenance and working his way back—but the journey still seemed interminable. The rhythmic catch-and-release of the magnets in the exoboots made him slow and the lack of gravity in the void made him clumsy; the burden of the sledge meant he had to watch every step, lest he impart too much momentum and lose control of it. The sledge, which was the size of a full workbench and contained not only tools and supplies but all the restraints and systems necessary to operate in zero-grav, had more than enough mass to do him damage if it got away from him, especially since it was still tethered to the belt fixed around his waist.

Getting it to the open airlock was the easy part; getting it inside without damaging anything was the trick. And he was going to have to do it under surveillance, because of course Blackout’s little spy was waiting for him, clinging to the inside jamb of the lock.

He wasn’t going to let the hulking flier know that the Deployer’s presence bothered him, though. He put his head down and proceeded with the maneuver as if the bug weren’t there; even if he’d had the energy to spare, getting the mobile workbench inside required all of his concentration. Pushing and pulling just so to control the sledge’s inertial velocity, pitting his actuators and servos and the contacts of the exoboots against the mass of the thing—it was a familiar ballet but that made it no less exhausting. Knock Out was not so experienced in zero-grav maneuvers as to take his ability to execute them for granted.

He got the sledge docked against the wall, locked into its clamps, and clumped wearily over to the control pad to cycle the outer airlock door closed. The atmospheric seals engaged and the gravity came back on, every joint and strut creaking as they had to take his weight again. Knock Out twisted and turned, resettling his plating against the protoform beneath and idly testing the fatigue in his joints as air hissed steadily into the chamber. A list of potential strains scrolled on his HUD—his internal HUD, not the display on the faceplate still sealed to his helm—but he ignored them. Strains didn’t worry him, and if he’d blown or fused or seriously disjointed something out there, he’d already know about it.

EVAs were inevitably rough on a cyb, even ones who’d actually received training in zero-grav ship maintenance and repair. Bodies and systems engineered to work against the pull of gravity functioned differently in the void, and while it was easy enough to compensate, it wasn’t always comfortable. That was one of the reasons he avoided long-term EVAs—bad enough to be stuck out there without backup, but it wasn’t like he had anyone he could count on to put him back together if he seriously damaged himself. He’d been careful, extra careful in planning these EVAs, knowing how many he’d have to make to repair Blackout’s careless damages, knowing how much support and sympathy he could expect from his current shipmates if something went wrong…

But it hadn’t. He was finished, and Vitalis cleared for safe and efficient atmospheric maneuvering once more. He couldn’t help a self-satisfied grin behind the faceplate.

He detached the exoboots and the tether belt while the airlock chamber continued to pressurize, stowing at all away in a cabinet and then just sitting on the bench he’d folded out from the wall. As soon as the atmospheric indicator went to blue he was unsealing the faceplate, air rushing in with a hiss. The faceplate guaranteed enough pressure to protect the functioning of his optics, just as delicate as any other Cybertronians, and to allow him to talk, but not much more—certainly not the full atmosphere that life support kept the ship at. He unsealed the rest of his vents and cycled deeply, purging the last of the tension of the long series of repairs with the sigh.

Even the most stale ship air made a fine draught after the frigid lack and the necessity of sealed vents in the void. The irony would never be lost on Knock Out, physician that he was, that a Cybertronian could overheat to termination because of it, even in the cold depths of space.

Chittering softly, the Deployer shifted its grip on the doorjamb, the blank lenses that passed for its eyes fixed unblinkingly on him. He ignored it for a few more minutes, sitting relaxed against the wall of the airlock chamber, just resting. It didn’t give him very long, starting soon enough to creep closer to him along the arch of the inner lock, moving with effortless precision for a bug hanging upside-down from a doorway. While Knock Out could ignore its vocalizations, the rhythmic rustle and clang of its feet as it climbed steadily towards him was harder to set aside.

“All right, all right, I’m up,” he said, before it could get close enough to crowd him. He levered himself up off the seat with a groan of stressed servomotors and made a point of folding it back into place against the wall before turning to face the bug. He flicked his fingers at it, the gesture half dismissive and half beckoning. “Down, scraplet,” he said, but only laconically, not expecting a response.

He definitely wasn’t expecting obedience. The Deployer obliged him, springing down from the jamb and clearing the inner airlock door to cycle open. Knock Out eyed it uncertainly for a moment as it marched out and into the access corridor beyond, then shrugged and followed it. It led the way down the short hall way, still chattering intermittently to itself. It sounded self-satisfied; Knock Out wondered if he was imagining it.

A flash in his HUD warned him before he stepped through the arch and into the common room, and so he wasn’t surprised to find Blackout’s big spy waiting for him. Breakdown was sprawled in one of the seats, staring blankly at a plain spot on the wall. He looked… empty, or like he was waiting—how he often looked, when there wasn’t something he was responding to.

He picked himself up a little when he noticed Knock Out. “Hey.”

Knock Out ignored him, putting his head down and cutting across the common room towards his current cabin. Breakdown only engaged him at Blackout’s behest, and Knock Out wasn’t exactly in the mood to deal with it right now.

“Hey,” Breakdown said again, getting to his feet with a creak of hydraulics and servos to match the distress of Knock Out’s own. At least he had a reason for his physical fatigue; in Breakdown it was an effect of indifferent maintenance and insufficient exercise. It was enough to make the buffbot in Knock Out wince, even though it had been a long time since he’d been personally responsible for another cyb’s maintenance.

He reached the entrance to his cabin and slapped the control pad, watching with anxious dismay as the door—repaired now from the damage Breakdown had done it in his destructive little fit, but it was only a makeshift job—ground sluggishly towards full aperture. He could feel the bigger grounder looming up behind him before the door was open wide enough to duck through.

Out of time. Summoning his best, most professional expression, Knock Out turned. “Yes, Breakdown?”

“Blackout wants to see you.” He jerked his head towards the open doorway and the access corridor at the back end of the common room. “In the bridge.”

Of course he did. Knock Out didn’t let himself react beyond a curt nod. “All right. You can tell him I’ll be there as soon as—”

Breakdown was shaking his head. “He said now. Soon as you came in.”

Of course he did. “All right,” Knock Out said again, shoulders slumping. Defeated. He turned about sharply on one heel and ducked around Breakdown, careful not to make accidental contact with the bigger mech. He struck off across the room—at a very different angle than the one that would deliver him to the bridge access. Blackout could demand an audience of him, and Knock Out didn’t dare refuse, but he wasn’t going to go scampering immediately off to the bridge like an errant newspark.

Given a few cycles to rest and refuel and Knock Out might have been able to handle Blackout’s peremptory officiousness with magnanimity. Fresh off a spacewalk and as drained as he was feeling? The only reason he wasn’t ignoring Breakdown entirely and locking himself in his cabin was because he didn’t want to risk his door. He’d managed to repair it once, but even that was only barely functional. He didn’t much relish the thought of having it ripped straight out of the wall for the obviously inexcusable crime of provoking Blackout.

He cut across to the energon dispensary, palming his way inside and taking up a hand-tube from the rack of empty containers. He keyed in his ident manually—mostly for show, he could have had Vitalis log him with just a thought—and then filled it from the dispenser beside the main reservoir. Capping off the tube with a clean sipper, he turned—and stopped, taking in the sight of Breakdown filling up the doorway. The other cyb was watching him, no expression on his face, but there was something in the brightness of his optics and the subtle set of his shoulders and plating that gave Knock Out pause.

His offended pride wanted him to treat both of his unwelcome companions the same way they’d been treating him so far, to just put his head down and force his way past Breakdown without a word. He wanted to be just as much as slagger as he was being slagged off. But at spark, Knock Out was pragmatic, and it was that pragmatism that warned him now that he was already in for a long journey, and antagonizing his captors unnecessarily would make it seem all the longer. His uncertain truce with Blackout was just one step towards civil relations, and had proven over the last few cycles to be a very small step indeed.

Blackout was a rock Knock Out was just going to have to figure out how to navigate around, and carefully. Of the two, it was Breakdown, this big, blank mech in front of him, non-reactive and slow and distant after their first violent spasms of meeting—it was Breakdown who Knock Out thought he might have a chance of reaching.

And it was Breakdown that, ostensibly, he was supposed to be helping. It was the basis of his little ceasefire with Blackout, the fulcrum on which he’d levered himself up out of the cargo hold. Blackout hadn’t seemed inclined yet to follow up on their decision to work together to help Breakdown, but Knock Out didn’t have to follow his lead on this. Which of them was the trained physician, after all?

He gestured with his hand-tube at the other mech. “Hungry?”

Breakdown looked at him, then slowly moved his optics to the tube, then moved them back to him again. There was definitely something in his eyes, a vital warmth deep within the big strange optics, but he still sounded far-away as he rolled his shoulders in a shrug and said, “Sure.” His voice was flat, affectless, but when Knock Out handed him an empty container from the rack, he moved obediently over to the dispenser and filled it. Knock Out’s critical eye noted the heavy way he handled the energon tap, and how he almost fumbled the sipper top before he got it sealed to the tube, but he didn’t say anything about it. It was curious, sure, but Knock Out was just a little too tired to be thinking diagnostically. He’d puzzle over the clumsiness later.

“Do you know what Blackout wants me for?” Knock Out asked as they filed out of the little dispensary together. The absent flier’s Deployer chirped at the mention of its host’s name, hopping down from the perch it had assumed while they’d been busy inside and weaving a complex pattern under their feet.

Seeking information just after the offer of fuel was a blatant move, Knock Out knew, but he was willing to take the chance. Stubborn Blackout would deny him on principle, but he didn’t know enough about disinterested Breakdown to be able to guess how he’d react. But the bigger mech just stared silently at him for a moment before shrugging another of those strutless shrugs. Knock Out considered pressing the issue, but he didn’t get a chance; the little drone had flung itself into Breakdown’s feet, its vocalizations getting shriller. Turning away from him, Breakdown knelt carefully over the agitated Deployer, squeezing some of the energon from the tube onto his fingers and offering it to the bug.

Well. That was that. It had been worth a try, at least.

Putting the sipper of his own tube to his mouth, Knock Out squared his shoulders and headed for the bridge accessway. The door, which should have opened automatically to admit him, didn’t, and he had to stop short before he walked straight into it. He scowled at the little orange locklight on the doorpad. He was fairly sure he could get Vitalis to override that lock, but it sat heavily on his shoulders that he couldn’t yet afford not to play Blackout’s game by Blackout’s rules. So he pressed the chime and occupied himself with his fuel while he waited to be buzzed in, allowing himself those moments to savor the rush of energy to his stressed systems.

Finally the door cycled open, and Knock Out stepped through. It was the first time he’d been allowed on the bridge since Blackout had taken over the ship, and the sight of the massive flier straining the pilot’s cradle to capacity struck him as grotesque. With an effort, Knock Out composed himself, kept himself from reacting to what felt viscerally like a violation.

“You wanted to see me?” He was proud of how even and neutral his voice sounded.

“Sir,” Blackout said pointedly, falling expectantly silent after. He had a starmap open on the main screen and his optics were fixed on it.

Not three sentences into the conversation and Knock Out was already feeling his determination to play along being strained. “Come again?” he managed, but only after another moment to recompose himself.

“’You asked to see me, sir,’” Blackout said. He shifted in the cradle, turning enough to fix Knock Out with a baleful sidelong stare. “Or have you forgotten that I am your superior officer?”

Knock Out stared back, floored by the pedantic correction and the unmitigated gall of the assertion. Blackout had claimed as much before, when they were evacuating the base, but Knock Out hadn’t thought he meant it seriously.

Then again, might made right among their kind, didn’t? Especially out here on the fringes, where Decepticon High Command was a distant bureaucratic nuisance and questions of hierarchy were solved with posturing and contests of strength more often than appeals to any higher authority. Knock Out was certainly not assigned to any official command of Blackout’s—would have resisted as much with all his spark, in fact—but that didn’t mean he could dare disrespect the monster now. Not here, not trapped onship like this in the middle of literally nowhere.

Blackout’s games, Blackout’s rules. He had to play along. He purged his vents in a slow hiss and stood up a little straighter, letting his tube of energon dangle from one hand and managing a respectable salute with the other.

“You wanted to see me, sir?” he parroted dutifully. He was so deadpan as he said it that he sounded sarcastic, at least to his own audials, so it came as a surprise when Blackout accepted it with a nod.

“I have orders for you,” the big flier rumbled, “presuming you’ve finished your—” A pause. “—work.”

That was some unexpected diplomacy from a mech who’d been disparaging his efforts only a few cycles ago. Knock Out nodded shortly. “Go on… sir.”

A movement of Blackout’s hand against one of the control yokes blanked the starmap on the main screen and brought up a document that Knock Out recognized quickly enough as the inventory he kept of his ship’s supplies. “I want a full record of everything we’re carrying onboard,” Blackout said. “Everything, down to the diameter of every last spare bolt. Start with what we took out of the base; I’ve got no records of that.”

“Everything?” Knock Out repeated, an incredulous hitch in his voice. Inventorying was an onerous task, a necessary evil that he undertook only when he had more free time than he knew what to do with and literally nothing else to do with it. Going through his own personal supplies was time-consuming enough, but going through—

Everything Blackout and Breakdown had brought on board…

Openly and with permission. No, with orders. And Blackout himself had just admitted that he couldn’t prove what it was he’d brought with him in those boxes crowding the cargo hold.

It was a struggle to keep a predatory grin from blooming across his face, but Knock Out had plenty of experience in self-control and managed to keep his expression neutral. “Yessir. Anything else?”

Blackout had already returned the main screen to the starmap he’d been studying when he’d admitted Knock Out. “That will be all,” he said. “You’re dismissed.”

Despite his exhaustion, there was a certain buoyancy in Knock Out’s step, a swagger to his stride as he took himself out of the bridge and back down the accessway. He still needed rest, and badly, but his thoughts were already ranging ahead to the task he’d been given—and how best he could turn Blackout’s exploitation of his labor to his own advantage.

**

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